Building Collapse and Trench Rescue Present Unique Challenges

(1) Paratech's struts can be built into tripods, bipods, or monopods to fit specific structural collapse or trench rescue situations.
(1) Paratech’s struts can be built into tripods, bipods, or monopods to fit specific structural collapse or trench rescue situations. (Photo courtesy of Paratech.)
(2) Fire and rescue personnel use Paratech rescue struts to brace a trench wall.
(2) Fire and rescue personnel use Paratech rescue struts to brace a trench wall. (Photo courtesy of Paratech.)
(3) Paratech's Flying Raker system is used to brace an exterior structure wall in this building collapse scenario.
(3) Paratech’s Flying Raker system is used to brace an exterior structure wall in this building collapse scenario. (Photo courtesy of Paratech.)
(4) The Res-Q-Jack Super X system has the ability to add a removable jack to perform a lift or controlled lowering of the load.
(4) The Res-Q-Jack Super X system has the ability to add a removable jack to perform a lift or controlled lowering of the load. (Photo courtesy of Res-Q-Jack.)
(5) A firefighter uses a Cutters Edge CE94 CRS concrete rescue saw with its carbide-tipped bullet chain to cut through structural concrete.
(5) A firefighter uses a Cutters Edge CE94 CRS concrete rescue saw with its carbide-tipped bullet chain to cut through structural concrete. (Photo courtesy of Cutters Edge.)
(6) Cutters Edge makes a rotary rescue saw with a Black Star diamond blade that handles any material found at rescue sites.
(6) Cutters Edge makes a rotary rescue saw with a Black Star diamond blade that handles any material found at rescue sites. (Photo courtesy of Cutters Edge.)

Structural collapses of buildings pre-sent fire departments with unusual challenges for search, rescue, stabilization, lifting, and cutting heavy (often reinforced) structural members. Likewise, trench rescue scenarios present firefighters with similar potential problems with imminent collapse, stabilization, and search and rescue of trapped victims. Because of these and other challenges, specialized equipment for dealing with structural collapse and trench rescue has evolved from typical lifting and bracing equipment used by fire departments.

Hans Frank Normolle, chief sales officer for Paratech, says his firm’s biggest area of focus is on rescue support systems. With Paratech’s rescue strut systems, firefighters can support structures in building collapse or dirt in trenches to complete a rescue, Normolle says. “They also can build a tripod, bipod, or monopod out of the same struts that are used to support the building or trench,” he points out, “so firefighters are able to design the use of the struts to fit the situation at hand. It’s like a big Lego® set-there’s almost no limit to what you can do with it.” Paratech’s US&R rescue strut system includes struts of various lengths, strut bases, load indicators, gauged controllers, gauged regulators, and strut extensions.

Safety Equipment Is Fundamental

Kurt Braunle, president of S.T.A.R.T. Rescue Training, provides technical rescue training in a number of disciplines including structural collapse, trench, rope, and water rescue. “In both structural collapse and trench rescue, the most fundamental equipment is the safety equipment-bracing, atmospheric monitoring, electrical hot sticks for electric lines, confined-space equipment, and ventilation equipment,” Braunle says. “In trenches you’ll see thin- or short-form panels and also pneumatic or hydraulic shoring. But it’s pretty much the same equipment for both disciplines.”

Braunle notes that large-capacity, low- and medium-pressure air bags are used in both structural collapse and trench rescue for void spaces and collapsed wall areas. In addition, shoring lumber-four-by-four-, four-by-six-, six-by-six-, two-by-six-, and two-by-12-inch sizes-is commonly used. But, he points out that in structural collapse, most fire departments use manufactured shoring equipment or struts rather than lumber because they are quicker to install. “The rescuers don’t have to take the time needed to construct and install timber shoring, which requires lots of time and personnel to do,” he says.

Normolle says that while 60 percent of Paratech’s sales come from rescue support systems, another 30 percent come from air bag sales. “Air bags and struts are the kinds of equipment that most departments have,” Normolle says. “When you’re talking about lifting and shifting, the air bag is the most utilized tool of fire departments around the world. There are a lot of things they can do with air bags and, with the proper training, are able to shift a load as well as lift it.”

Continued Strut Interest

There continues to be a strong interest by fire departments in rescue struts, Normolle maintains. “Fire departments have learned that they can use those kinds of tools for the big rescues they have to do, as well as for trench rescues and structural collapses,” he says. “The market is growing for these types of tools.”

With a package of Paratech rescue struts, the company also conducts a product familiarization session with the customer, Normolle points out. Paratech also recommends that the department get certified training by third party organizations, and Normolle adds that many of Paratech’s sales people are either instructors in the field or are training to become instructors. “We want to make sure the fire department is using our product correctly for safety reasons,” he says, “and also to allow it to use the tools most effectively.”

Versatility for Various Loads

Chris Pasto, founder and R&D director for Res-Q-Jack, say his firm’s chief product incorporates a jack with a strut, allowing firefighters a range of abilities on a rescue scene, from using it as a passive stabilization device to performing heavy rescue by lifting an object or vehicle.

Res-Q-Jack’s latest strut, the ALX, has a stab capacity of 10,000 pounds in column with a 6,000-pound lift capability. Pasto says that Res-Q-Jack recently received a patent on its newest X-strut technology-the Super X system-which has an add-on removable jack that requires no pinning to the strut. “The Super X system can handle heavier loads but with the ability to put a jack on it to make a lift,” Pasto points out. “Not only can you lift the load with the Super X system, but you also can do a controlled lower of the load, staying with it the whole way.”

Pasto notes that Res-Q-Jack understands the occasional need for heavier capacity struts geared toward structural collapse and trench rescue and believes that the Super X fits those applications and is capable of active rescue or lifting as well. Besides having a hollow inner section of the strut that gives the Super X a savings of about eight pounds of weight, the unit also is compatible with heavy trench rescue and building collapse struts that many fire departments currently own.

Braunle notes that people involved in working on a heavy collapsed structure often have to work with heavier tools and demolition equipment. “There are structures where a fire department’s standard rescue equipment and carpentry tools will suffice,” he says, “but often they will have to be able to cut through metal and to breach heavier materials. It’s more difficult dealing with concrete and steel, compared to light and medium wood and masonry.”

Pasto says Res-Q-Jack also makes the Flipjack series, a multipurpose lifting unit and ram device that has applications in collapse and trench rescue scenarios. It weighs 23 pounds, can lift between 4,000 and 6,000 pounds, and is available in both mechanical and hydraulic models.

Stabilize, Then Cut

Saws also are important pieces of equipment in building collapse and trench rescue scenarios, often used to open up holes or corridors for rescuers to reach trapped victims.

Tom Ruzich, president of Cutters Edge, a manufacturer of fire rescue saws, says his firm started in 1984 specifically to make rooftop ventilation fire equipment, but over the years the company changed its focus more toward fire rescue saws as opposed to only structural firefighting saws.

Although Cutters Edge makes a multicut chainsaw, modified with a carbide-tipped bullet chain that can cut everything except concrete and ductile iron, it is the company’s CE94 CRS concrete rescue saw that’s attracting the most attention in structural collapse and trench rescue work, says Ruzich. The CE94 CRS uses a 94-cc engine that drives a proprietary diamond chain. “Instead of being lubricated by oil, the diamond chain is lubed by water that comes through channels on the interior of the bar, lubing it from the inside out,” Ruzich notes. “It can cut through 16 inches of reinforced concrete with rebar in it and handles virtually any type of concrete, from reinforced to pressurized to different aggregates.”

Ruzich says that in building collapses, fire departments often find many different kinds of concrete they have to pierce-structural concrete, concrete beams, and sound-deadening concrete-each of which is vastly different. There also are different grades of pressurization of concrete, as well as different sizes of rebar contained within the concrete. “Having a tool like the CE94 CRS that can handle all those types of concrete can mean a big difference in the time it takes to extricate someone from a collapse,” Ruzich says.

Ruzich also says that by using his company’s concrete rescue saw, firefighters can more quickly locate trapped victims. “Rather than drill with a concrete boring machine to drop a search camera or a listening device into a void in a building collapse, they can make three punch cuts with the tip of the bar and end up with a triangular hole where a camera can be inserted,” he says. “There’s no kickback using the CRS tip because our bullet and concrete cutting chains abrade the material. If that search cut is in the right place, the firefighters then cut 30 inches on two sides of the triangle and open it up.” Ruzich maintains that the CE94 CRS can cut a 30-inch triangle through six inches of concrete in 15 minutes.

The multicut saws that Cutters Edge makes, which Ruzich says currently form the bulk of the company’s sales, come in the most popular 72-cc engine version, as well as 88- and 66-cc models.

Cutters Edge also makes a CR735RS rotary rescue saw with a 73.5-cc engine that comes with the option of either a 12- or 14-inch Black Star diamond blade. Ruzich says the Black Star diamond blade can cut any material found at fire rescue sites and because of its gyroscope effect lasts up to 100 times longer than standard rotary saw blades.

Ruzich notes that Cutters Edge is working on a ring saw that is in its testing phase. “We expect to have either a 16-inch or 20-inch ring that can cut up to 20 inches of reinforced concrete,” Ruzich says. “It will use an 88-cc engine and we expect to introduce it later this year.

Consider the Risk

Braunle cautions that fire departments have to consider the scenario they are faced with to determine the best tools to fit the application. “They have to take into consideration the risk potential, look at the secondary collapse potential, and work in unfamiliar surroundings in an unstable structure,” he points out. “There are trip and fall hazards to be wary of and also the potential for fire and explosion.”

In addition, in structural collapse or trench rescues, Braunle says departments need the use of search cameras, listening devices, and urban search and rescue canines.

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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